My wife and I have just returned from two weeks in Egypt.  We went with AWT (Ancient World Tours) exploring numerous tombs and temples on either side of the banks of the Nile between Luxor and Aswan.  We even spent two days in the Eastern Desert marvelling at rock art – a polite description for 5,000 year old graffiti.  Our base for the first week was a luxury steam cruiser, the S/S Misr that had once belonged to King Farouk, and, in the second week, the famous Old Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor.  But don’t let me give you the wrong impression; this holiday was hard work with many 5am wake up calls and 6am departures, clutching cameras, binoculars and bottles of water (the temperatures were abnormally high for the time of year).

Of course, gazing upon ruins plastered with intricate carvings and hieroglyphs is endlessly fascinating.  But equally interesting, at least to me, were our travelling companions.  We were a diverse group of about 36 people, plus the organisers and three guides.  On the flight to Luxor it was fun trying to work out, in the absence of any introductions, which passengers were destined to be in our group.  We spotted some during check-in, suitcase labels being a useful give away. 

Once on the steam boat, there were no formal introductions so it was left to us to join a table at dinner and say hello to whoever happened to be brave enough to sit with you. This ‘forming’ stage is tricky because you have so little information about who are likely to be kindred spirits, sharing your level of interest in hieroglyphs and, much more important, your sense of humour. Inevitably, early exploratory conversations tended to focus on how many times you had visited Egypt.  In our case we could boast three previous visits but, alarmingly, we soon discovered that there were serious Egyptologists in our midst who had been to Egypt countless times and had already visited just about everywhere we were due to go.  They clutched learned texts translating obscure hieroglyphics and, it subsequently transpired, seized every opportunity to read relevant passages aloud to us as we assembled outside, to give but one example, the rock-cut Temple of Kanais, built by Seti 1, that had only recently been opened after being bricked up for the past 50 years. (By the way, this occasional name dropping is to show you that, despite being on holiday, I leant something.)

Gradually ‘forming’ slowly gave way to ‘norming’ (we never reached the heady heights of ‘storming’) as people formed sub-groups with which they felt comfortable.  Thus you had:

  • A high-brow subgroup that hung on every word spoken by our knowledgeable guides, were never templed-out, could read hieroglyphs, earnestly shone torches in dark corners and photographed/videoed everything they could.
  • A semi-serious subgroup that dutifully did everything on offer but were selective when it came to immersing themselves in endless explanations of Egyptian chronology and rapidly became incapable of distinguishing one temple/tomb from another.
  • A low- brow subgroup that, mindful that this was supposed to be a holiday, tended to resent the early starts and started to pick and chose which trips to endure. It was noticeable that this subgroup spent longer than others on loungers beside the hotel swimming pool.

I oscillated between semi-serious and low-brow.

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